Allen E. Buchanan: Attractions and Specialized Right to the Decent Minimum Policy

In “The Right to a Decent Minimum of Health Care”, Allen E. Buchanan argues the faulty premises of universal right being justifiable for a mandatory decent minimum policy in health care. First, he explains logically and coherently the attraction towards, not the reasoning for, a mandated decent minimum policy for healthcare by our rational thought. Next, he explicitly explains through the combined weight of arguments from special rights to healthcare, harm-prevention, prudential arguments, and enforced beneficence is sufficient enough for a decent minimum of healthcare. In his special rights to healthcare, Buchanan emphasizes that there be no individual right to health care but a societal duty relying on the actions of all. 

Buchanan explains his three main reasons why a decent minimum policy seems to be a great idea at first glance. First, allocating resources from health care to other social policies would be a byproduct of health care having a decent, adequate minimum; as many prioritize health differently. It also stays on track with the societal obligation to help those in need and those of the less fortunate. Lastly, Buchanan exclaims that it is a floor beneath an individual, a safety net of some sort, to allow a person to put some priority on their health care. I agree with the second and third points of Buchanan’s interpretations of attractions towards the decent minimum policy; societal obligation and a safety net. However, his first point runs on the same assumption made by Alan Goldman, in which health and longevity are not priorities to a large majority of society. I would believe that most of our social policy expenditures are on health care and education to better ourselves as humans, so most of society would still spend money on a “higher level” of health care despite the decent minimum. This idea intertwines with the idea of individual autonomy, as the freedom to choose ideal personal health care is enhanced when nutrition is in its best form. Therefore, allocating resources would be a difficult task as this creates equal opportunity in such a case for those who do not prioritize health at such a high value. From an economic, realistic point of view, this may be exceeding the resources health care can provide and making the decent minimum policy less attractive.

In his suggestion to alter the decent minimum of health care, Buchanan argues the idea for special, not universal, rights to fit the definition of the decent minimum more effectively. Buchanan is attempting to enhance the decent minimum policy by disintegrating the vagueness of a universal right. He, once again, uses three primary groups of people that should receive a decent minimum policy. One group for those involved in a rectifying past or present of injustice, such as Native Americans. Another group for those who have suffered unjust harm or been unjustly exposed to harm by others. And a final group for those who have had exceptional sacrifices for the good of society, such as the military. I believe Buchanan does a great job transitioning to these arguments after explaining the counter of why a decent minimum seems but not is, a great idea. I agree with a more specialized right rather than a universal right, but, in my opinion, it seems to be specialized to the point of little to no effect depending on the requirements of the groupings. Also, it could be argued as discriminatory. With more details to his specialization, Buchanan effectively eliminates the universal rule to the decent minimum policy. Overall Buchanan is relying heavily on societal duty, through the sums of individual action, and aspiration of a decent minimum of health care. He fails to ensure and solidify his different approach to dividing health care for society, but does offer an interesting opinion.

One thought on “Allen E. Buchanan: Attractions and Specialized Right to the Decent Minimum Policy

  1. Lee June Yun

    Logan D’Amore analyzes and evaluates the claims the Buchanan makes regarding the decent minimum of health care and the need to stray away from a universal right approach of the decent minimum health care policy.

    D’Amore carefully lays out Buchanan’s evaluation of the universal right approach. Among the three reasons that he provides, he claims that Buchanan makes an assumption that health and longevity are not priorities of a society and that people would still pay for a cost higher than the minimum in order to gain health benefits above the decent minimum.

    However, the above analysis of Buchanan’s claims is misleading. Whilst explaining the attractions of decent minimum health care, Buchanan in fact argues that the policy allows people to “avoid the excesses of the “strong equal access principle”, meaning that people are able to choose higher quality health care services by will while still being guaranteed minimal level health care. Therefore, the discussion regarding people’s value judgement of whether health care is a priority is not relevant in this particular argument.

    D’Amore then explains the notion of special rights given by Buchanan. However, the reason as to why these special rights have been introduced is misleading, as Buchanan is in fact trying to give a more convincing supporting claim to a decent minimum health care policy by moving away from a vague universal right argument to a more substantive special rights argument which could be applied to specific groups of people.

    In order to enhance the quality of the evaluation, D’Amore could have explored the practicality and fairness of giving special rights to certain groups of society. For instance, is it possible to certainly determine whether the collective harm that African Americans have received due to historical events contribute towards deterring the health conditions and the ability to receive health care? Should the government be morally responsible for past historical events? Wouldn’t giving health care to specific groups of people leave out weak and vulnerable people who cannot afford health care but does not satisfy the conditions met by the specific criteria?

    Lastly, D’Amore leaves out the interesting discussion of individual not contributing towards a greater health care policy. Buchanan argues that people acting rationally would not contribute towards the greater policy, but rather carry out independent acts of charity as there is no assurance of other people also contributing enough to the cause allowing the cause to happen. This brings space for great discussion about the human nature, specifically regarding whether people are capable of having faith in others to collectively contribute towards a greater cause.


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